Clark se­niors cel­e­brate June­teenth

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

Free­dom, eman­ci­pa­tion and lib­er­a­tion are words typ­i­cally associated with June­teenth Day, a day recorded in his­tory as a life-chang­ing event for African-Amer­i­cans. It was the end of an era filled with pain — now cel­e­brated as a time that is gone, but not for­got­ten.

On June 16, the Richard R. Clark Se­nior Cen­ter in La Plata

hosted a free June­teenth event, be­gin­ning with sev­eral song se­lec­tions from the se­nior cen­ter gospel choir, a fash­ion show, door prizes, po­ems and read­ings about the his­tory of June­teenth, a free soul food lun­cheon, and a skit per­formed in front of 170 guests.

“Many peo­ple don’t know about June­teenth and be­fore my job, I had never heard about it,” said Florence Robey, 71, cen­ter co­or­di­na­tor. “But I love his­tory and I think it’s im­por­tant that we re­mem­ber where we are from. I wanted this June­teenth pro­gram to give a sense of pride to lo­cal res­i­dents and I wanted it to be an up­lift­ing event. I didn’t want peo­ple to leave and feel heavy, but I wanted it to be a joy­ous event and that’s how it turned out.”

Elaine White, a co­or­di­na­tor for the June­teenth event, read about the his­tory of June­teenth — also known as Free­dom or Eman­ci­pa­tion Day — dur­ing the se­nior cen­ter’s cel­e­bra­tion. June­teenth is the old­est na­tion­ally cel­e­brated com­mem­o­ra­tion of the end­ing of slav­ery in the United States. It’s an an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of the date the Union sol­diers en­forced the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion which freed all re­main­ing slaves in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. Texas was the last state in re­bel­lion of end­ing en­slave­ment al­most two and a half years after Pres­i­dent Abra­ham Lin­coln signed the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion. From its Galveston ori­gin in 1865, the June 19 ob­ser­vance spread across the U.S.

A mem­o­rable mo­ment of the cen­ter’s June­teenth cel­e­bra­tion was the skit per­formed by sev­eral se­niors. The skit told the story of an en­slaved fam­ily in­clud­ing Char­lotte, Jim and Nel­lie, their daugh­ter. The fam­ily’s lives are turned up­side down when their daugh­ter is sold by Mas­ter Tom and sent to work for an­other plan­ta­tion owner in Texas. Many years after June­teenth oc­curred, the par­ents found their only daugh­ter in an ef­fort to re­unite their fam­ily.

“There was some bro­ken lan­guage through­out the skit and it was a lit­tle bit of an un­easy feel­ing, but it made the crowd laugh as well,” White said.

Robey said all of the se­niors loved and en­joyed the skit. Many were shocked to learn that many slaves sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies be­fore eman­ci­pa­tion were never found.

Bet­tie Cochran, 71, a La Plata res­i­dent, played Char­lotte. She said the skit con­veys how slave masters did not care about keep­ing slave fam­i­lies to­gether and how the slave masters car­ried out de­vi­ous acts. She be­lieves her char­ac­ter helped give the au­di­ence a clear pic­ture of some of the his­tory and im­por­tant events that hap­pened dur­ing that time­frame.

“Florence Robey brought June­teenth Day to my at­ten­tion three years ago and I thought it was amaz­ing,” Cochran said. “Through my char­ac­ter Char­lotte I tried to il­lus­trate how im­por­tant it is for peo­ple to know their his­tory. Once I in­ter­nal­ized that it could have been my own child, just tak­ing in the feel­ing of some­one tak­ing my own child, I was able to put my­self into the sit­u­a­tion and I could imag­ine how Char­lotte felt. The feel­ing was deep and hurt so bad to know that I would never see my daugh­ter again. I had to hold my tears back at that time.”

Mas­ter Tom was played by Tom Glis­son, 81, a La Plata res­i­dent, who said he was hon­ored to be cho­sen to par­tic­i­pate.

“My part in the play — as the white slave mas­ter, Tom — had a lot of mean­ing to the cast, to the au­di­ence and es­pe­cially to me be­cause many whites felt ashamed about what was done to slaves,” Glis­son said. “I know June­teenth is a cel­e­bra­tion be­cause it was the end of a not-so-great time for African-Amer­i­cans in that era. I can’t imag­ine what it was like and I’m glad to help bring an un­der­stand­ing for all peo­ple, es­pe­cially if do­ing the play helps heal those who were de­scen­dants of slav­ery.”

White said that times have changed, and we are still in an era when progress must con­tinue. She said Charles County should con­tinue to cel­e­brate and re­mem­ber June­teenth Day just as Black His­tory Month is cel­e­brated.

“I hope peo­ple re­al­ize that al­though those events oc­curred dur­ing when slav­ery ex­isted, every­body should not hold hate and bit­ter­ness, but to love each other as a whole,” White said.

STAFF PHOTO BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

On June 16, the Richard R. Clark Se­nior Cen­ter Gospel Choir per­formed sev­eral se­lec­tions, in­clud­ing “Stand­ing in the Need of Prayer,” at the June­teenth cel­e­bra­tion at the Richard R. Clark Se­nior Cen­ter.

STAFF PHOTOS BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

On Jun. 16, dur­ing a skit be­ing per­formed at the Richard R. Clark Se­nior Cen­ter, par­ents who learned that they are now freed from slav­ery were able to find their long lost daugh­ter who was pre­vi­ously sold by their mas­ter, Tom.

On Jun. 16, lo­cal se­niors per­formed a skit at the Richard R. Clark Se­nior Cen­ter, In this part of the skit, an en­slaved fam­ily fea­tur­ing Char­lotte, the mother, Jim, the fa­ther, and Nel­lie, their daugh­ter are struck with grief as their slave mas­ter takes away their daugh­ter to be sold and sent to work for a plan­ta­tion owner in Texas.

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